Ottawa

Ottawa-Carleton District School Board ponders eliminating gifted program

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board is considering changes to its gifted program — including the elimination of specialized programs for primary students — after a sweeping review found "students with giftedness do as well whether in the regular program or specialized program class."

Report also recommends eliminating the gifted program at Merivale High School

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board is expected to discuss recommendations to change programs for gifted students at its board meeting on Oct. 18, 2016. (Shutterstock/Rawpixel.com)

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board is considering changes to its gifted program — including the elimination of specialized programs for primary students — after a sweeping review found "students with giftedness do as well whether in the regular program or specialized program class."

The report on the review, to be discussed at a public board meeting on Tuesday evening, recommends an itinerant teacher position be created.

The teacher would support classroom teachers in the education of gifted primary students in the regular program once specialized programs are eliminated. Under the proposal, gifted programs would begin in Grade 5.

The proposed change would save the school board more than $300,000 annually.

The report also recommends eliminating the gifted program at Merivale High School, since it has low enrolment, and redirecting gifted students there to one of the three other schools that offer the program: Bell High School, Glebe Collegiate Institute and Lisgar Collegiate Institute.

There are currently 2,000 students in the OCDSB that are considered gifted — about three per cent of the overall student population. Of those gifted students, 40 per cent remain in the regular program but with modifications in an individual education plan while the remaining 60 per cent are in a specialized program.

The report on the gifted program review details that there are "significant challenges" with the specialized programs, as some classes are as small as five students, putting a strain on staff. It also notes that some gifted students must travel away from their community school to take part in the program.

'Rare but beautiful program'

But Julian Janes, whose son is in Grade 3 in the profoundly gifted program at First Avenue Public School, is chalking up the proposed changes as a move to save money — and not act in the best interest of the children. He said the gifted program has been "life altering" for his son and students like him in their early education.

"It is not a bad program. I understand that it might be costly but the program itself is fantastic. It's a positive thing," he said. "Gifted kids are easier to ignore in a regular classroom."

The Ottawa Carleton District School Board is considering changes to its gifted program. (OCDSB report)

The report notes that while it's possible to identify a gifted student very young, it can be "problematic" and best left to do at an older age.

"As children age, assessments are more likely to accurately capture the intellectual profile of the child and reduce the occurrence of false positives and false negatives," the report states.

Gifted kids are easier to ignore in a regular classroom.- Julian Janes , father of gifted student

But Janes said it's a change in the school board's screening process that is preventing children from qualifying for the gifted program at a young age, delaying their chances at excelling in their studies.

He said the idea that gifted students do just as well in normal classes is based on an attitude that since they're bright, they'll manage on their own. But he emphasized that the primary gifted program allows young gifted students to study with peers that are at their level.

"I think it's a rare but beautiful program because these kids are so ahead of their peers that they don't relate to them socially," he said.

"These kids have enormous potential. And a lot of them, if they're stuck in a regular program between Grade 1 and Grade 3 or 4, they become extremely bored, anxious, depressed. They get bullied and teased for being too smart."

More recommendations

The Ministry of Education is currently reviewing its definition of giftedness, which is: "an usually advanced degree of general intellectual ability that requires differentiated learning experiences of a depth and breadth beyond those normally provided in the regular school program to satisfy the level of education potential indicated."

The report recommends exploring options for the way gifted students are screened in line with the updated definition.

Another recommendation is to introduce a "gifted specialized intervention program" to help "twice exceptional learners" who are considered both gifted and having a learning challenge. The program would be offered to students in grades 5/6 and 7/8.

The report also recommends instituting a "single offer" policy for specialized gifted program placements.

"Historically, some parents have declined offers for placement in the specialized gifted program class based on the identified school. The district is proud of the quality of the learning environment in every school. Placement is based on the needs of the learner and the suitability of the instructional program," the report states.

Public consultations on the recommendations are expected this fall, with the goal that the board will have a final vote in January 2017.

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